Jim Thome, a former Major League Baseball star who once led the Charlotte Knights to a league championship, will throw out the first pitch Friday night when the Knights open the season at the new BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte’s uptown.
Thome, one of professional baseball’s all-time leading sluggers, actually will be among a number of celebrities throwing ceremonial “first pitches,” the team said Monday.
The Knights face the Norfolk Tides at 7:05 p.m., but an Opening Day Festival is scheduled for noon at nearby Romare Bearden Park in uptown.
Thome was a member of the Cleveland Indians’ farm system in 1993 when he was assigned to Charlotte, the Knights’ debut in the AAA International League. That season, he hit 25 home runs and drove in 102 runs, hitting a league-leading .332, and was named Most Valuable Player of the league. The Knights won a franchise-record 86 games and captured the league title.
At the time, Charlotte was the top farm team of the Indians and was a training ground for many of the players that helped make Cleveland an American League power in the late 1990s.
Thome went on to play 22 years in the major leagues, with the Indians (1991-2002, and 2011), the Philadelphia Phillies (2003-2005, and 2012), the Chicago White Sox (2006-2009), the Los Angeles Dodgers (2009), the Minnesota Twins (2010-2011) and the Baltimore Orioles (2012).
His 612 career home runs are the fourth-most for a left-handed hitter, trailing Barry Bonds (762), Babe Ruth (714) and Ken Griffey Jr. (630).
“That year in Triple-A kind of kick-started my career,” Thome said of the 1993 season. “Obviously, Charlotte, I have fond memories. I met a lot of great people there, and to go back is an honor.”
He now works as a consultant for the White Sox.
The Opening Day Festival will include stilt walkers, face painters, jugglers, strolling magicians, live music and children’s arts activities, leading up to the 7:05 p.m. start of the game at the new stadium.